The term equitable distribution refers to how a court divides up a couple’s assets in a Rhode Island divorce. Rather than split a couple’s assets down the middle 50/50, courts consider a variety of factors when determining how to divide assets and liabilities. The concept behind the doctrine of equitable distribution is that marriage is viewed as an “economic partnership” between two people. Thus, courts attempt to award marital property according to the contributions each party made to the “partnership” during the marriage. Most types of property can be subject to equitable distribution, including real estate, cars, artwork, furniture, bank accounts, business interests, and even retirement accounts.
The equitable distribution process requires Rhode Island family law judges to engage in a multi-step analysis. First, the judge must determine what constitutes marital property. Courts consider marital property any property that was acquired during the marriage, with a few exceptions. While property that was owned by one spouse before the marriage is not typically considered marital property, any increase in value that occurred during the marriage may be subject to equitable distribution. Inherited property is not considered marital property, nor is any income received from such property. However, gifts between spouses are marital property.
Once a judge determines which of the couple’s assets are marital property, she will then consult the list of factors contained in Rhode Island General Laws section 15-5-16.1, including:
- The duration of the marriage;
- Each parties’ contribution in terms of acquisition, preservation, or appreciation in the value of their respective estates;
- The conduct of the parties during the marriage;
- The contribution and services of either party as a homemaker;
- The age and health of the parties;
- The occupation and employability of the parties;
- Either party’s contribution to the education or increased earning power of the other party;
- Either party’s wasteful dissipation of assets; and
- The need of the custodial parent to occupy or own the marital residence.
In addition, the final factor allows a judge to consider “any factor which the court shall expressly find to be just and proper.” Rhode Island divorce judges can consider almost anything they want to, as long as it would not be improper to do so.
Finally, after the court weighs these factors, it must then divide the assets according to its findings. Courts have broad discretion in awarding assets in a Rhode Island divorce, and anyone going through a divorce should consult with a dedicated family law attorney o ensure their interests are protected.
Are You in the Process of a Rhode Island Divorce?
If you are currently going through a Rhode Island divorce, or are separated and considering divorce, contact one of the dedicated family law attorneys at Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC. At Bilodeau Capalbo, we have extensive experience representing clients in separation and divorce proceedings, and are intimately familiar with all the applicable laws. We work tirelessly to ensure that you are treated fairly throughout the process. We proudly represent clients across Rhode Island, including in West Warwick and Westerly. To learn more, call 401-300-4055 to schedule a free consultation today.